Lies, Damned Lies, and the News

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.

A news outlet–maybe it’s a TV station, maybe it’s a local newspaper–runs a story that has a big emotional impact, the sort of thing that gets people talking, crying, angry, what have you.  Better yet, the story furthers a particular narrative that evokes a Larger Truth, be it racism or sexism in America, rape culture, hate crimes, police brutality–take your pick.  Quickly, other news outlets pick up on the story.  It soon goes viral, spreading like wildfire on social media.  Retweets jump from hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands.  Suddenly, the story is a national phenomenon:

A [Detroit] business owner who flew to Iraq to bring his mother back home to the US for medical treatment said she was blocked from returning home under President Trump’s ban on immigration and travel from seven predominately Muslim nations. He said that while she was waiting for approval to fly home, she died from an illness.

And if that’wasn’t tragic enough:

Mike Hager fled Iraq with his family during the Gulf War, returned during the Iraq war and worked alongside United States Marines and Army forces. He now owns a business in Metro Detroit and said his mom would still be alive today if President Donald Trump had not instituted his travel ban on Muslim countries.

A hero and a patriot!

Hager said he was returning home with his family that included his sick mom.  As they were waiting in line at the airport in Iraq on Friday, he was told that he could pass through because he was a U.S. citizen. But his family members – including his mom – weren’t allowed, despite holding green cards.

And here comes the money quote:

“They destroyed us. I went with my family, I came back by myself. They destroyed our family,” Hager said.

It’s the sort of thing that practically screams out for social justice:


But then somebody, somewhere actually bothers to check the facts behind the story and finds out that it’s total bollocks.

The leader of a mosque in Dearborn has confirmed to FOX 2 that a man who claimed his mother died in Iraq after being barred from returning to the United States under a ban instituted by President Trump this weekend, lied to FOX 2 about when her death occurred.

Oh, snap.

Imam Husham Al-Hussainy, leader of the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center in Dearborn, says Mike Hager’s mom did not pass away this weekend after the travel ban was put in place. The Imam confirms that Hager’s mother died before the executive order was signed.

Now, kudos should go out to Fox 2 in Detroit, where the original story appeared, for being up front about being duped.  One has to wonder, though, why they didn’t do a better job of confirming the story in the first place.  Time and time again, the media have run with what turned out to be #FakeNews about the Trump administration just so they could be the first to–well, the first to get it all wrong, I guess.  It’s almost as if the media can’t see a fresh, steaming pile of poo without going out of their way to step in it.

Why, media why?  Why do you keep doing this?

I think the answer is actually quite straightforward.  These days, the news has less to do with reporting what happened and everything to do with advancing the narrative (whatever that happens to be).  In this case, the story of a noble Iraq war hero losing his mother because of a cruel, heartless executive order fits perfectly into a preconceived idea that Donald Trump is himself cruel and heartless.  Trump is the villain in this soap opera that the media have devised, much the same way Barack Obama was the hero when he was in office.  The script that that they write will never stray from that central conceit.

But don’t be so naive as to believe that the media are just living in a bubble, either.  They know full well that by the time #FakeNews is exposed, the story has already spread far and wide and imprinted itself on lots of people.  That’s why retweets of the fake story number in the thousands, while the retraction usually numbers in the dozens–and that’s on a good day.

The collateral damage, however, is pretty extensive:  a public misinformed about important issues and a media lacking in credibility.  In a very real way,  casting themselves as the opposition has made it more difficult for the media to keep an eye on what the Trump administration is actually doing.  With all those writers working for them, you’d think they would understand irony better.

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Marc Giller

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